Thursday, January 30, 2014

Exploring a New Urban Wild Place (2)

Yesterday another free morning, a dusting of snow on the ground, and time to explore the wild place I first entered two weeks ago.  That time I entered from the north, struggling through briars and striving to avoid being in sight of surrounding homes, but also to keep my feet dry on the slightly swampy land.  This time I would enter the wood from the south end, where there was a easier walking and a bit more elbow-room. 

There are a couple of possible entries, both related to the newest residential development to invade the woods.  I parked on a side street a few hundred feet from my chosen entry, switched on the little gps I use for boating, and walked in, noting that a few of the houses had cars in the driveway--possibly observant homeowners at home.   

Scattered stands of American beech, still holding dried leaves, glow in the sun.
In my family at this season we call them "lantern trees."

A thick stand of bullbriar makes this more open area more difficult to walk through that it appears. 

One of the ubiquitous stone walls is visible among the trees.

The tree in the center was marked with a snowball at 5 feet so I could estimate its total height at 45-50 feet.  Though one of the tallest trees in this part of the wood, it is dwarfed by several in the northern part.

This was drier and more open ground with well-spaced trees and a low, continuous cover of something like huckleberry bushes, and I went quite a way--crunching noisily in the snow-covered leaves--before I was comfortably obscured by trees.  My course in the beginning was restricted by housing to both left and right, but these faded out of sight faster than on my earlier visit.  I crossed several stone walls in the first minutes, and then came to a boulder pile that I first guessed was the result of fairly recent construction.  Then I noticed the tree growing out of the top of it, showing it was probably mostly natural, or at least fairly old.  The top of the pile (perhaps ten feet above the level of the nearby woods) made a good vantage for a look around, and I took panoramic photos that showed the ground for a hundred or more feet in all directions.

Panoramas taken from the top of the rocks.  (See flag in aerial images.)

It was pleasanter crunching in the dry leaves and wading through the low huckleberries than the wet, briary scramble of two weeks ago, and I covered considerably more ground in consequence. This part of the wood may be younger than the north end, judging by the smaller height and diameter of the largest trees, but it was a pleasant place.  A few minutes after leaving the pile, I happened on a well-trodden path.  It led a good distance, passing a sort of blind along the way.  (I later discovered a hunter's tree stand--the third I've noticed in this wood.)*

A hunte's blind?  A young teenager's fort?

Although I rather resent finding trash, structures, and other signs human use, I had no objection to the frequent stone walls that spoke of human occupation in times gone by.  The walls represent a stimulating mystery: how long ago were they built, and for what purpose? what can they tell us about the lives of these earlier owners?   In general, stone walls in New England less fences, than the result of frustration born of attempting to plow the rocky ground: the stones cleared from the fields are piled roughly up at the borders of field or property to become boundaries in themselves.  But the particulars of these walls remains a mystery for now.  

The path.

And the path rather gladdened my heart, since it meant easier travel.   I followed both ways until getting too close to houses on the borders, and found one structure, made of old pallets leaned against trees and piled with branches--a fort, or perhaps a hunting blind.   There were not many more signs of human visitation here than in the north, especially considering I saw more of it than I had before, but I did find another tree stand.  Someone must expect deer. 

This new development is primarily McMansions.  I don't know which disturbs me more: 
mcmansion owners oblivious to nature, or those inspired to take a proprietary interest in nature. 

I came out at another possible access point, walking through the city's newest McMansion development. 

I returned home interested to put my gps track on Google Earth so I could see where I'd been, and also explore the land from above. 

 Southern two-thirds of the Wild Place, with the new development at upper right at different stages.  Upper image is from 4/9/2008, while lower is from 8/24/2013.  I tried to roam pretty widely, but avoided getting too close to houses, and went back and forth several times on the path.  The man-made clearing that appears at top center is the same that I visited in my earlier entry from the north.

A surprise came when I chose the most recent image that showed the woods bare of leaves and zoomed in:  the rough, tumbledown stone walls I had crossed were clearly visible, were spaced out in almost a grid, and were about as straight as a ruler could have made them.  I chose one place where walls met at an apparent right angle and measured it: again, as near to 90 degrees as I could determine.  However long ago those walls were built, the surveying behind them seemed sound.  Besides how far in I got, my gps track shows several things: the location of the rocks I stood atop (marked as waypoint 135), the path I found (the long diagonal I doubled back on), and how close I was able to come to the border of the wood without much risk of being observed. 

I look forward to further exploration in late spring when the leaves are out.

*I assumed Brockton would not allow discharge of firearms within city limits.  But to my surprise, it IS legal to discharge a gun except  "in or upon any street or public place, or within 100 yards thereof, or in any building or within 100 yards of any building without permission of the city council."  (

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